It's been more than a year since bottled water and corporate America collided at Grand Canyon National Park, and the push continues to get more national parks to phase out packaged water in favor of fresh tap water and refillable bottles.
Next week National Park Service officials at Yosemite and Mount Rainier national parks, Independence Hall National Historical Park, and Golden Gate National Recreation Area will be presented with over-sized postcards urging them to phase out disposable water bottles.
At Corporate Accountability International, a non-profit that works to encourage cleaner environmental habits, officials intend to make March 27 a "national day of action ... in a heated battle between those who are fighting to get billions of plastic bottles out of our waste stream, and Coca-Cola (owner of Dasani), who is throwing hurdles in the way of those parks that want to become bottled water free."
Coca-Cola rose to the limelight back in November 2011 when an email trail seemed to indicate the beverage maker was pressuring the National Park Foundation to urge the Park Service not to ban disposable water bottles at Grand Canyon National Park. At the time, Park Service officials said they weren't bowing to corporate pressure but simply conducting due diligence on the impacts of such a ban. For instance, they said at the time, how might the safety of visitors to Southwestern parks such as the Grand Canyon, Arches, and Canyonlands be impacted by a ban?
Kristin Urquiza, who oversees the "Outside the Bottle and Public Works Compaign" for Corporate Accountability International, says more parks need to follow Zion, Hawaii Volcanoes, and Grand Canyon national parks in phasing out the sale of disposable water bottles.
At the same time, she was critical of an extensive memorandum (attached below) Park Service Director Jon Jarvis sent out to his superintendents in the wake of the Grand Canyon uproar that directed the steps they would need to take to phase-out bottled water. That memo called for superintendents to, among other things, review the amount of waste that could be eliminated from their park; consider the costs of installing and maintaining water filling stations for visitors; review the resulting impact on concessionaire and cooperative association revenues, and; consult with the Park Service's Public Health Office.
Then, too, they must consider "contractual implications" to concessionaires, the cost and availability of BPA-free reusable containers, and signage so visitors can find water filling stations. Also, they need to take into consideration safety considerations for visitors who might resort to drinking water "from surface water sources with potential exposure to disease" or who neglect to carry enough water with them on hikes.
"That is a clear indication of how Coke, stepping in, really is putting pressure on the Park Service to make it much more difficult for additional parks to follow suit," maintained Ms. Urquiza during a phone conservation. "Coke and the other bottlers, Nestle and Pepsi, there were several conference calls that were organized with Park Service employees and representatives from the big bottlers, asking them to put a hiatus on additional bans, and really working to stop this from happening in additional places."
To get more parks to phase-out bottled water, the non-profit has been working with stakeholders in and out of national parks, including concessionaires, "to help give Park Service (superintendents) the support they need to really move forward on implementing a 'bottled-water-free' policy in their parks," she said.
While none of the four parks has given "firm commitments" to moving forward with a ban, said Ms. Urquiza, talks have been ongoing to examine the feasibility of such a ban.
"The real exciting feedback that we've been getting is that water in the parks is an incredibly important issue for superintendents," she said. "They want to figure out how to minimize the amount of waste, to promote public water."
The organization plans to organize efforts this fall in Washington, D.C., to lobby the Park Service to hold firm to its original plan of having refillable water stations in 75 percent of park visitor centers by 2016, while encouraging parks to discontinue the sale of disposable bottled water.
On March 27, next Wednesday, the non-profit hopes superintendents at Yosemite, Mount Rainier, Independence Hall, and Golden Gate will commit to moving forward with a ban of disposable water bottles. "Our hope is that the superintendents can make a public commitment to implementing bottled-water-free policies," Ms. Urquiza said. "We're really hopeful, and see this as a win-win for parks.
"... At the end of the day, it's really sending the wrong message for our national parks to be promoting bottled water," she added.
At least one reusable bottlemaker, Vapur, has been talking with national parks about installing water-filling stations for visitors. Company officials, however, have declined to discuss what progress they're making.